Sri Lanka

U.N. aid convoy enters Sri Lanka war zone

News and Press Release
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By C. Bryson Hull

COLOMBO, Oct 17 (Reuters) - A U.N. convoy hauling food aid to more than 230,000 refugees trapped in Sri Lanka's war zone began making deliveries on Friday, a day after artillery fire forced it to turn back, the United Nations said.

The Sri Lankan military and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels blamed each other for the weapons fire that stopped the train of vehicles on Thursday.

The convoy is only the second to enter the war zone since the government ordered most aid agencies out last month, saying it could not guarantee their safety. Diplomats lobbied the government to let the trucks in on humanitarian grounds.

The 50-truck convoy left Vavuniya, 250 km (155 miles) northeast of the capital Colombo, on Friday morning carrying 750 metric tonnes of food to the people trapped by clashes between government forces and the Tigers.

"They are proceeding as normal," U.N. spokesman Gordon Weiss in Colombo said.

On Thursday, it was forced back after "a dangerously close exchange of heavy fire," but proceeded when both the army and the LTTE renewed their pledges of safe passage, Weiss said. He said it was not clear who was responsible for the firing.

The pro-rebel website www.TamilNet.Com quoted unnamed officials who said the Sri Lankan military "was fully aware of the itinerary of the convoy and blamed the Sri Lankan army for sabotaging humanitarian supplies by firing shells".

TamilNet also blamed the military for blowing up a bridge used by the first convoy, but did not cite any sources.

The military called the claim baseless.

"There is no requirement for us to destroy the bridges, so definitely this is the LTTE who had done it to stop all of the security forces moving through that road," military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said.

The trucks took aid to camps where people are at risk of disease outbreaks with the onset of monsoon rains.

A growing number of people in the last month have fled an intensified military drive against the rebels, and are now trapped between rebels who will not let them leave and an army whose offer of safe passage they distrust.

(Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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